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Aurora Graldi. Travelling Icons and Travelling Donors: A Metal Buddha Image in The Cleveland Museum of Art

A late 6th century metal image of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni is undeniably one of the masterpieces in the collection of The Cleveland Museum of Art. The Buddha stands on a base composed of a single lotus and a stepped rectangular pedestal; the proper right hand performs abhaya mudra (the gesture of fearlessness) while the left arm is bent forward at the elbow, the hand grasping the hem of the monastic robe (Fig. 1). Two tenons on the back very likely served to attach a halo to the figure. The base bears a dated inscription: epigraphic studies have shown that it originated in Nepal and that the date corresponds to 591 CE, in the Licchavi period (c. 386–750) (Slusser and Vajracharya, 1975, pp. 81–82). Thanks to the rare occurrence of the dated inscription, the Buddha sculpture has played a singular role in the art history of Nepal. Art historians have generally considered it to be the oldest Buddha image cast in metal that can be safely attributed to Nepal (ibid.). However, in a recent article John Guy includes this object in a corpus of Buddha images that descend from models of the Gupta–Vakataka era (c. 250–500)—the 5th century Buddha granting protection found at Phopnar Kala in Madhya Pradesh (Guy, 2016, fig. 5) is one of the finest examples—and recognizes it as Indian.

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Jan/Feb 2018
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